We spend so much time discussing what’s best for the Florida Gators; what will help the sports teams both on and off the field. From time to time, we decide to be selfish though and discuss what’s best for us. These thoughts could help the football team or they could help us as fans. We may want a certain player to succeed because he’s a vital part of the roster or just because we like his jersey number. Whatever the case, these are the things we want out of the Gators’ 2012 football season. Up first, One Eyed Willy.
10. Less trouble off the field. Let’s be honest…ultimately it’s what happens on the field that we all care about. If we were going 12-0 and in the BCS Championship game, few fans would have a problem with the recent “misfortunes” of our players off the field. But, being a graduate of the University of Florida, I would hope that at some point the players can start realizing that any trouble they get into will be on the cover of the next day’s sports section and will be a black eye not only on themselves, but the entire football team and the university. At some point the double-digit arrests per year have to stop – or at least slow down.
9. A big time punt returner. I still remember sitting in the stands chanting “Lito, Lito, Lito!” before #3 would take one to the house. And while our punt block team was superb last year, I am still waiting for the next Brandon James or Keiwan Ratliff to step back there are take a couple punts the distance. We have tried several different punt returners over the last few years, but none have been very impressive in my eyes and some have been downright awful. So maybe 2012 is the year someone surprises me and becomes another weapon to compliment those 10 guys up front who have certainly been holding their own.
8. Recruiting, recruiting, recruiting. As a self-proclaimed recuitnik, I realize that recruiting is a 365-day process. The 2013 recruiting class is off to a great start – probably the best start that we have ever had – but we are to the point now where we don’t just need great recruits, we need great recruits to fill some great big holes we have in the roster. Priority #1A and #1B is to find several highly rated wide receivers and offensive lineman. With our defensive line being stacked as much as I remember it being in the recent past, it’s time to focus on the offensive side of the ball and attract some guys that can not only play right away, but help this team win sooner rather than later.
7. More Matt Elam. I don’t care where he is on the field or what he is doing…I want to see more Matt Elam! Even though Elam is only a junior next year, there is a good chance that this could be our last time seeing him wear the Gator orange and blue. Elam is the heart and soul of this defense and we live or die by how much he gets involved in the game. So let Elam throw a couple of passes. Let him play running back some. Hell, let the guy punt or placekick. I really don’t care. Just put Matt Elam in a position to make plays and let’s see what happens.
6. Beat Texas A&M in Week 2. I talk more about wins in general further down my list, but I truly believe that this is a big game for the Gators. Not only are we playing a good team in week 2 (something we don’t often do), but we are playing at their stadium (one of the tougher places to play in the country) and against a team that will be playing in their very first SEC game. The Aggies would like nothing more than to send a message to the entire league that they have arrived by knocking one of the big boys off the first chance they get. We cannot let that happen. In order for the 2012 season not to be over before it really even starts, we must take care of business in College Station.
5. Focus more on the rivalry games. Many times last year we heard Coach Muschamp say that “it’s just another game.” He would say this whether we were playing FAU or Alabama. Well, respectfully Coach Boom, that is complete and total B-S! Ask any Gator fan out there and they will tell you that there are three games a year that mean more than the others: Tennessee, Georgia and FSU (in no particular order). In 2009, we expected (and did) kick the crap out of all three of these teams. But my oh my how things have changes since then. Now we expect to beat the crap out of Tennessee, hope Georgia does something stupid that gives us the “W”, and pray that we keep it close enough with FSU to have a chance at the end of the game. Sorry, but that just ain’t gonna cut it! Muschamp might be a great coach, but if we continue to lose to any one of those three teams year after year, his tenure at UF will most certainly be a short one.
4. Run the ball effectively. Notice my choice of words here. I didn’t say that we had to be the best running team in the nation, but we do have to have a good enough run game to open up the passing game and to milk the clock in order to keep the defense off the field and preserve wins. And we have to do this not only against the Bowling Greens of the world, but also the LSUs and South Carolinas. The biggest problem we have with running the ball is the lack of experience in the backfield. With Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps now graduated, we will have to rely on Mike Gillislee, Mack Brown, Trey Burton and Matt Jones to carry the bulk of the running responsibilities. I think this unit is good enough to be effective, but not good enough to be great. Add this to an offensive line which was miserable at times last year and this may just be an impossible wish on my part. But nonetheless, it’s something that I believe will be necessary if we want to have the success we have been accustomed to.
3. Better play out of our linebackers. In 2009, UF was able to pick up commitments from two highly touted linebackers in Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins. Bostic (a personal favorite of yours truly) and Jenkins (a personal favorite of The Bull Gator) were supposed to be difference-makers from day one and lead the Gator defense for the next several years. Unfortunately this has not worked quite as planned and Bostic and Jenkins, while showing sparks of greatness here and there, have been nothing more than starters for a below-average unit. Whether it’s the players, the scheme, or the coaching really doesn’t matter. These two guys must step up for the defense to be successful in 2012.
2. Find a “go to” wide receiver. For the love of everything holy, can we please find a wide receiver that opposing defenses have to actually account for on each play, let alone possibly fear? Over the last two years, our top WR in terms of catches was Deonte Thompson with 21 catches in 2011 and 38 catches in 2010. Even worse, Thompson has two touchdowns combined over those two seasons. That just isn’t going to cut it in big-time SEC football. Someone, anyone, has to step up this year and prove that he can be trusted to catch 4-5 balls a game (Andre Debose and JaJuan Story…I’m looking at you!!!)
1. Just win! Sounds simple enough, huh? Well, based on our performance these last two seasons, wins do not seem to be very easy to come by any more for the Gators. If you take out the “cupcake” teams and the bottom dwelling SEC teams (Kentucky and Vanderbilt), the Gators are 6-11 over the last two seasons. Of these six wins, only the USF win and the Penn State win in 2010 were against teams that finished with a record above .500. Now I am not asking for the Gators to run the table and end up in the national championship game, but rather I would like to see us beat some better-than-average teams next year. For instance, teams like Texas A&M, Missouri, South Carolina, Georgia and FSU are all games that we have a chance of winning in my opinion – we may not be favored in all (or any) of these games, but they are nonetheless winnable. If the Gators can win three of these games, we will most likely have an eight-win season. And right now an eight-win season is about all I can hope for.
Come back for more of what we want from the Gators’ 2012 football season from Evandagator and The Bull Gator.